Karthik Ramachandran's work on insulin-producing cells could lead to better treatments for diabetes
November 01, 2012
By Andy Hyland
Karthik Ramachandran, Ph.D., always knew that he wanted to work on commercializing technologies after he completed his Ph.D. degree in bioengineering, but he had no idea he would be commercializing his own inventions.
After graduating earlier this year, he, and his Ph.D. mentor Lisa Stehno-Bittel, PT, Ph.D., founded Likarda, LLC, a new startup company. The company opened its doors in July, and is housed at the Bioscience and Technology Business Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The company is the 24th active KU startup company.
Likarda's technology is centered around the ability to miniaturize tissues and organs for multiple applications. Starting with the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called islet cells, Likarda manufactures miniaturized versions of the cell clusters that can be more effective in transplants to cure diabetes. The company is focused on reversing diabetes in dogs and cats. Today, about 400,000 diabetic dogs and cats in the U.S. require daily insulin injections by their owners. Additionally, these miniaturized cell clusters, which Likarda calls "Kanslets," can be used to test new drugs, because they resemble an original organ or tissue.
In a very short period of time, Likarda began earning national and world-wide recognition. Ramachandran was recently named as a "Top Young Entrepreneur to Watch in Kansas City" by Under30CEO.com, a New-York based business website, as a part of its annual Under30CEO awards.
The company was also named to the Global Entrepreneurship Week 50, or "GEW 50," a list of the world's 50 most promising new companies. The list is part of the Startup Open, an annual Kauffman Foundation competition that recognizes the world's top startup companies in connection with Global Entrepreneurship Week. In addition, the company was one of 13 worldwide to present at the Fourth Annual KC Animal Health Investment Forum earlier this year.
"I never thought I would be working in a startup company," Ramachandran said. "I always thought I would go work for a big pharmaceutical company or somewhere else in the biotech industry. I'm excited, though. It means you get to help commercialize your own product."
The company's founders credited KU Medical Center's Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation (IAMI) and the Bioscience and Technology Business Center for helping to make private industry connections and convert their science into a business plan. IAMI collaborates with philanthropy organizations, university researchers and the private industry to advance life science innovations to the marketplace.
For example, a collaboration with a pharmaceutical company helped Likarda's leaders realize that their cell clusters could be valuable in testing and screening new drugs.
"That's when we realized this really should be a business and that we could provide services to the pharmaceutical industry," said Stehno-Bittel, the chairperson of KUMC's Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science and Likarda's president.
Ramachandran also received an IAMI fellowship in 2010-11 that helped support the research that led to the new company and connected him with people familiar with business and industry.
"They think in a completely different way than scientists," Ramachandran said. "It's really been a philosophical switch for me."